This section is from the book "Spons' Mechanics' Own Book: A Manual For Handicraftsmen And Amateurs", by Edward Spon. Also available from Amazon: Spons' Mechanics' Own Book.
On taking it up again, he removes any dust that may have settled upon it, by wiping it all over; thus also removing any little oil that may have sweated out from the previous operation. He then selects an old rubber, one that has become close and compact from long use and pressure, from his rubber canister, where he keeps various sizes to suit the area of his work; this canister being fitted with a cover, excluding air, keeps the rubbers constantly moist and ready for use. The why and wherefore of that old rubber is this: by the closeness of its texture, it has a less capacity for polish, and consequently gives that polish out much more sparingly than would a new one, made of the same material; and as in this final operation there must be no approach to wetness its use is obvious. He charges this rubber with half-and-half, that is, half polish and half clear spirit, only just sufficient that when forced into the rubber by squeezing, it shall be a little moist: for if the body is wetted, it will re-dissolve, and greatly deteriorate the quality of the finished surface.
Placing over his rubber a piece of soft calico rag, and twisting them up in a proper manner, with a drop of oil applied to its surface, he passes it over the work in a horizontal direction until the whole has received a portion, and the rubber is in a fit state to be worked. He has now arrived at the most important part of his work, namely, that of giving to it that unexceptionable glaze, which is the genuine stamp of a well-finished piece of work.
The polisher exercises the utmost care and ingenuity in the manipulation of his rubber, judging of its proper working by the dull, satiny smear, as he calls it, following the course of his movements; which dull smear consists of an inconceivably fine stratum of resin, the spirit from which is driven off by friction, assisted by temperature. Two chargings of the rubber should be sufficient for this operation, and with these he so elaborates his work that, the rubber being completely dried out, the surface of his work is smearless, hard, and brilliant; and should require nothing more, although it is customary to give it a final touch by means of a rubber of soft calico rag, slightly damped with clear spirit, and passed lightly over the surface until dry.
Work thus executed will stand for years, creditable both to the workman who did it, and the employer who turns it out; the only thing required to keep it in order being to keep it clean and dry by frequent wiping with soft dusters.
It is certainly much to be regretted that such a thing as time should interfere to mar work which otherwise could be made exceedingly beautiful; especially with a trade in which time itself is such an essential and even indispensable requisite; yet such is the case, and the consequence is, that 90 per cent. of those employed in polishing are totally ignorant of what degree of proficiency they are capable. In the preceding example, rules are given limiting the operations to three; but in the shops of good firms that number is often exceeded; while in minor houses it oftener consists of one or two. The carrying out of the foregoing work in polishing-shops is usually as follows: the filling-in, the oiling, and often the floating, are done by the boys, or learners; the bodying and finishing by the men.
The original recipe for making it is as follows. To 1 pint spirits of wine add 1/2 oz. shellac, 1/2 oz. lac, 1/2 oz. sandarach, placing it over a gentle heat, frequently agitating it until the gums are dissolved, when it is fit for use. Make a roller of list, put a little of the polish upon it, and cover that with a soft linen rag, which must be slightly touched with cold-drawn linseed-oil. Rub them on the wood in a circular direction, not covering too large a space at a time, till its pores are sufficiently filled up. After this, rub in the same manner, spirits of wine, and a small portion of the polish added to it, and a most brilliant effect will be produced.
The original process, with little variation, or simplifying, has kept in use ever since; not because it is so perfect as not to admit of improvement, for it has never been so compounded that surfaces produced from it would resist a very high degree of heat without suffering partial decomposition, and consequently it could not be employed for many purposes which otherwise it is desirable that it should be, but chiefly because those who make polish - that is, the wholesale makers - are not themselves sufficiently acquainted with its requirements.
With regard to its lustre-yielding properties, it is everything that can be desired; and surely the resources of chemistry would not be exhausted in discovering something that would make it more impervious to heat. In the hands of competent persons it is not unreasonable to suppose that some beneficial result might be arrived at, namely, the combination of a heat-resisting with its lustre-yielding properties. As an example of what is required, one may point particularly to the dining-tables of the ante-French polishing period, which were brought up to a marvellously brilliant surface by means of linseed-oil and years of hard rubbing, a surface that would resist equally the heat of the hot dishes and the tricklings of wine from the decanters. The lac substance, of itself a yellowish-brown colour, semi-transparent, and very brittle, produces, when dissolved in spirits of wine, a solution of a yellowish-brown colour, which, when applied to woods of various and delicate shades, such as the white, silver, gold, purple, black, etc, which enter into marquetry, was found to communicate a false hue, and tended to mar the harmony it was wished to improve.
Hence arose the necessity for bleaching it, so that a solution might be prepared suitable for any combination of colours without destroying or injuring their effect. But, as there is no good without an evil, the process of bleaching acts very detrimentally on the more soluble constituents of the lac, depriving them of a considerable portion of their original body and density.